Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Our Man in Havana 8: The Central Railway Station

The Central Station in 1939, from the New York Times (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/18/realestate/cuba-streetscapes-the-new-york-accented-architecture-of-havana.html)
When I visit new cities, I like to check out the railroad station and train infrastructure. The main railway terminal in Havana is the Havana Central Station (Estación Central de Ferrocarriles) in the southern part of Habana Viejo. This handsome building was built in 1912 by the Frederick Snare Company of New York. Recall that in that era, big American companies dominated the Cuban economy and were improving the infrastructure to allow efficient movement of sugar cane and sugar products. After the 1958 revolution, the rail system was nationalized, and little or no funding was provided for upkeep or improvements to the system. In recent years, ridership had dropped rapidly, especially once new air-conditioned long distance busses started running on rural routes. The train is infamous for delays or breakdowns.
As of January 2017, the Central Station was undergoing massive rebuilding. I was not able to find out how this is being funded - by the Cuban government, the UN, or a grant from the Chinese government? Regardless, it was a closed construction site and I was disappointed to not see the interior.
The platforms are in the back (the west side of the building) and are still in use.
I tried to enter and take pictures, but a lady security guard tossed me out. But once I was outside the fence, she did not seem to care, or didn't pay any more attention (she was doing something with her phone).
The houses across the Avenida Bélgica face the station - it must have been a noisy spot.
We saw some rail infrastructure in rural area of Cuba. These tracks were in the village of Guasimal. The tops were not completely rusted, suggesting occasional use.

Photographs taken with a Fuji X-E1 digital camera. 

Friday, March 17, 2017

From the Archives: Sugar Land, Texas in 1984 with Technical Pan film

Sugar Land is a city southwest of Houston. Although Houston was inexorably sprawling in that direction in the 1980s, you still had a sense of countryside in Sugar Land. The town was surrounded by farmland and was known for the giant Imperial Sugar factory that occupied a multi-story complex of buildings and railroad tracks.
The mission-style depot was built in 1927 by Southern Pacific railroad. It looked unused in 1984. I am glad to report that the depot was moved to 445 Commerce Green Blvd. and now houses the Chamber of Commerce. Good for them to reuse a historic building.
Commemorative medal from the Sugar Land Heritage Foundation
This is a postcard of the Sugar Land sugar mill and nearby railroad lines, 1909. The depot was built to the left of where the men are standing on a locomotive. (From: (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth1717/m1/1/: accessed March 2, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Fort Bend Museum).
I liked the old-fashioned farmhouses. Back then I did not take careful notes, so the exact location is unknown.
This old farm had asphalt shingle sheets for siding ("tar-paper shack").
More tracks and warehouses. I tried to identify the trailer company in the warehouse, but it may no longer exist.

I took these photographs in 1984 with a Honeywell Pentax Spotmatic camera with 55mm f/1.8 Super-Takumar and 28mm f/3.5 SMC Takumar lenses. The film was the ultra-fine-grained Kodak Technical Pan film, which I exposed at ISO 25. This was an emulsion developed for the military or for microfilming purposes. It was very contrasty unless you used the special Kodak Technidol developer, and even then was hard to use. I only experimented with Technical Pan one more time, and that was in Greece (another set of negatives to scan one day...).

I scanned the negatives with a Plustek 7600i film scanner using Silverfast software.

The Spotmatic is still in good condition, and I recently used it in Vicksburg with Tri-X film. As always, I am amazed at the superb quality of these mid-century optics.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Our Man in Havana 7: Courtyards and Entry Halls of Vieja

Walking along the streets in Havana, I noticed that many entryways led either into an inner courtyard or to a dingy mysterious common area and stairwell. They reminded me of entry halls I saw in old apartment blocks in Poland. Kathmandu had hidden courtyards, as well. Let's take a short tour of Habana Viejo and Centro.
261 Aguiar in Habana Viejo. Questionable electrical wiring on the wall. What's beyond to the right?
Courtyard in 261 Aguiar. I don't understand the barrels - for rainwater?
Hall and stair at 512 Aguiar. Note that modern digital electrical meters have been installed on the left wall.
515 Cuba Street, with more of the modern digital electrical meters. The mess of wires strung above the meters is slightly non-code. Notice the complicated stairway going through the arch and then ascending behind it. 
507A Cuba, with a courtyard beyond.
265 San Miguel. Whatever building was once here has been cleared out.
Marble stairs at 212 Campanario. This was originally expensive construction. 
Entry hall at 202 Campanario. Note the tiles on the wall, similar to ones in subway stations (durable and washable).
Photographs taken with a Fuji X-E1 digital camera, with some RAW files processed in PhotoNinja software.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Our Man in Havana 6: the Paseo del Prado

Detroit Publishing Co., Publisher. [Hotel Pasaje and Prado, Havana, Cuba]. Cuba Havana, None. [Between 1900 and 1915] Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/det1994023933/PP/. (Accessed March 19, 2017.)
The Paseo del Prado, also known as the Paseo de Martí, is a boulevard with a tree-lined marble promenade running along the center. The Paseo divides Habana Viejo from Centro, and runs from the seaside Malecón south to the Capitolio. In the afternoon, the Paseo is the place to be seen, and a broad cross-section of Havana society congregates under the trees to walk, talk, sing, play music, skateboard, eat and generally foregather. According to Wikipedia, the Paseo was laid out in 1772. In 1925, Jean-Claude Nicolas Forestier, a French landscape architect, redesigned the it, lining it with trees and marble benches (Forestier? What a splendid name for a landscape architect.)
The Prado, circa 1921-1939, E.C. Kropp Co., Milwaukee, Wisconsin. In the Public Domain, Courtesy of Special Collections, University of Houston Libraries.
The chess champions, Paseo del Prado
As for fading architecture, you see some splendid examples along the Prado. Moorish architecture? In the Caribbean?
Neptuno view west.
Another view of Neptuno looking west

San Miguel
A street market on San Miguel. I assume this is an example of the small-scale capitalism that is now allowed. Some of the goods were for the tourist trade.
The side streets looking west into Habana Centro are pretty interesting. Really, you could spend an entire day along the Prado watching the people and exploring the side streets.

Photographs taken with a Fuji X-E1 digital camera, most with a Leica 50mm f/2.0 Summicron lens.

For a view inside some of these fading mansions, look at this January 2017 article titled "Inside Old Havana" in American Airlines' magazine, American Way. A German photographer, Bernhard Hartmann, met families who lived in these old houses and gained permission to photograph inside.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Testing a 35mm Super-Takumar lens in Beulah Cemetery and around Vicksburg with Tri-X film

Kansas City Southern railroad cut between Belmont and West Pine Streets, Vicksburg.
Sometimes, really inexpensive things prove to be fantastic. In a recent fit of GAS (Gear Acquisition Syndrome, suffered in varying degrees by all photographers), I bought an early-1970s Asahi Pentax Super-Takumar 35mm f/3.5 lens. It was only $45, so not much of a gamble. Mine predated the SMC (Super-Multi-Coated) versions that were introduced around 1973, but it has the same glass formulation.
This lens fits my wife's 1971-vintage Pentax Spotmatic camera. These were elegant, reliable cameras made by the Asahi company and marketed in the USA by Honeywell. They used the Practica M42 screw mount for the lenses, and many companies made lenses that would fit. But the best mechanical and optical quality usually were the Asahi ones. Many photographers considered the Pentax lenses to be better optically than equivalent Canon and Nikon versions.
Well, my new-old 35 is an amazing performer! It is sharp and and has beautiful rendering. It is a retrofocus design, meaning it is designed to fit far enough away from the film plane to allow room for the mirror in a single lens reflex (SLR) camera. My 35mm Summicron for Leica is probably sharper and more contrasty, but it is not a retrofocus design and is a $1800 lens, not $45. Below are some examples from in and around Vicksburg.
The cottage at 1900 Martin Luther King, Jr., Drive had a fire and will likely be torn down soon.
2228 Martin Luther King, Jr., Drive is a mid-century wood duplex. It is right next to Beulah Cemetery and is empty; status unknown.
Historic Beulah Cemetery is located at the very end of Martin Luther King, Jr., Drive, right next to the Vicksburg Military Park. The cemetery was formed in 1884 and is still in occasional use. "The cemetery is the final resting place for over 5500 members of the most prominent black families in Vicksburg, including ancestors of almost every native black in the Vicksburg area. The cemetery documents the existence of generations of people for whom otherwise there might be no surviving material available." The site was overgrown and largely neglected for decades, but an AmeriCorps team and other volunteer groups cleaned the site, and it is now on City of Vicksburg maintenance. It is a quiet place for photography. For more information, see http://beulahcemetery.org.

Photographs: Honeywell Pentax Spotmatic camera with the 35mm f/3.5 Super-Takumar lens. All photographs were tripod-mounted.
Film: Kodak Tri-X 400, developed in Kodak HC-110 developer.
Light measurement: Gossen Luna-Pro SBC light meter.
Scanner: Plustek 7600i using Silverfast Ai software, scanned at 3600 dpi.

I would be glad to hear from readers who use classic cameras.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Our Man in Havana 5: Habana Centro in film

Habana Centro is the part of town west of the Paseo de Prado and west of the El Capitolio. Being a kilometer or so from the harbor, you see fewer tourists than in Habana Viejo, so this is a great area to see the local residents and explore the eclectic architecture.
Typical Habana Centro scene, 112 Escobar
As I wrote earlier, Havana is a glorious display of faded architectural extravagance. Six decades of no maintenance in a humid climate, and almost every house has filth, spalling concrete, imploding floors, dripping pipes, and dingy balconies with hanging laundry. Toilets are as bad as Istanbul (but not as revolting as Sofia). All is superimposed on what was once extravagant art deco, art nouveau, postwar modernist, and Spanish colonial architecture with Grecian elements. Havana is amazing because this nostalgic luxury coincides with extreme poverty. People live in these grand faded townhouses, putting up with dingy stairwells, peeling paint, and crumbling facades and balconies.

The following pictures are from semi-random walks around Centro. Please read the captions for the locations and click any picture to enlarge to 1600 pixels wide.
Cuban caryatids at 206 Virtudes ("a sculpted female figure serving as an architectural support taking the place of a column or a pillar supporting an entablature on her head")
The corner of Havana and Blanco Streets.
325 Animas and its cheerful inhabitants. Note the exposed steel beams under the balcony - might they be corroded?
452 Animas. The street, like everything else, needed a bit of repair.
Hanging around at 156 Campanario.
Hanging around at 162 Campanario.
Havana and Virtudes. It looks like the corner building once had big windows, but possibly the facade is still original. 
The domino champions, 114 Lealtad. Note how they are supporting their plywood table on their knees.
Finally, a vegetable/grocery store at 519 Empedrado. We werer surprised how few food stores there were, at least where we  explored. The produce did not look too appetizing. 
Well, Che is here in the grocery store to remind you that the revolution is all-important. 519 Empedrado. 
Another rather unappealing (OK, revolting) vegetable stand at 313 San Miguel. 
An occasional empty lot means whatever structure was once on the site collapsed and the debris was taken away. 265 San Miguel. 
A common sight: a bunch of guys fixing a car. 216 Campanario. 

All photographs taken with a Leica M2 rangefinder camera with (mostly) the 35mm f/2 Summicron lens. Film: Kodak Tri-X 400 film, exposed at ISO 320 and developed in Kodak HC-110 developer.

Older Havana articles: